Last Updated on July 12, 2020
As a free and open-source platform, WordPress is the preferred platform for business or professional websites. The latest 2019 statistics reveal that it powers around 34% of global websites. In fact, WordPress powers nearly 300,000 of the top one million and 14.7% of the most visited 100 websites across the globe.
Why is WordPress so popular among website developers and site owners? One of its major strengths is that users can regularly avail of free-to-download updates and versions. Updates contain security fixes and other improvements over the previous versions.
However, updating your WordPress site to the latest version can be a tricky business. Improper updates can cause website crashes, incompatibility issues between the core WordPress and the installed plugins/themes, and many more unforeseen problems.
Does that mean that you should keep delaying or postponing updating your WordPress site? NO. Using outdated software is one of the most common mistakes that threaten your privacy and online security.
You just have to take some precautionary measures before doing so. Keep reading to find out!
1. Update installed plugins/themes to the latest version
WordPress sites often report incompatibility issues between the latest WordPress version and an older plugin/theme version installed on the site (or the other way around).
A majority of developers of popular WordPress plugins/themes like Akismet and Twenty Eleven release their latest versions to work seamlessly with the latest WordPress version. Before updating your WordPress, check if the installed themes and plugins are compatible with the latest WordPress version. If not, then individually update each one of them to the version compatible with the WordPress core.
2. Take a Backup of your website
Regular WordPress website backups are a safe and secure way of protecting your website and database files. However, it’s even more critical to take a complete website backup before applying a major update. In the unfortunate event of a failed website update, you can then quickly restore your website to normalcy by using the stored backups.
There are multiple ways of taking a website backup, including manual backups or through backups offered by your web host. However, the best option for WordPress sites is by using the best WordPress backup plugins like UpdraftPlus or BlogVault. Apart from being easy to install and configure on your site, backup plugins provide comprehensive backup features and do not need any prerequisite technical knowledge.
3. Choose between the Classic or the Gutenberg editor
With the release of the WordPress 5.0 version, the Gutenberg editor was introduced to WordPress users. Along with added functionality, this innovative editor was very different from the Classic WordPress editor that users were accustomed to.
However, with the Gutenberg editor, many WordPress plugins and themes also became incompatible, thus leading to major website issues. Since then, a majority of these plugin/theme developers have released updated versions of their products that work seamlessly with the Gutenberg editor.
If you have installed and are still facing severe issues with the Gutenberg editing tool of WordPress, you would be better off switching to the older Classic editor tool. The WordPress team is still supporting this tool.
4. Make use of website staging
In simple terms, website staging is the process of creating a replica of your live website and testing all your updates first on this site. Staging sites enable you to try out any new versions or code changes without any impact on the live website. To make things easier, WordPress staging plugins like WP Staging and Duplicator allow you to create a WordPress staging environment and use it on their platform.
Don’t want to invest in a separate plugin just for staging? You can use the BlogVault backup plugin that has a built-in staging feature at no extra cost.
With the staging plugin, you can quickly and safely test all your updates first on the staging site. Once you are satisfied with the changes, you can choose to merge these changes on the live website.
5. Deactivate your cache
Many WordPress users deploy caching plugins and other tools to improve their page loading speed and performance. Caching enables faster loading of website pages on all devices, making your site more responsive.
However, it is advisable to deactivate your caching before applying a WordPress update. This is to ensure that your website content or pages reflect the latest features and improvements available with the new WordPress version. If your caching is still activated, your website pages may continue to show the previous content or functionality.
To overcome this issue, either clean up your cache memory or deactivate your caching plugin, if you have one.
6. Evaluate all your installed plugins and themes
Do you have hundreds of plugins or themes installed on your WordPress site? This is an excellent time to evaluate which are the ones that you should keep or remove. For a start, you can remove the plugins/themes that you are no longer using.
Secondly, take stock of any abandoned plugins/themes that are no longer being supported by their respective companies or developers and uninstall them from your site. Thirdly, evaluate if you are using many plugins, each of which offers only a single functionality or use case.
With the wide availability of plugins, you can easily replace these multiple plugins with a single plugin that can offer multiple functionalities.
Why is this task so critical? Outdated or unused plugins/themes are most likely to cause incompatibility issues with the latest WordPress version.
7. Put your website in maintenance mode
And finally, before going ahead with the WordPress update, remember to put your website in maintenance mode. This is especially needed if the update process is going to take some time, and your website may have extended downtime.
With websites in maintenance mode, online visitors are notified that this is a temporary phase, and they can check back after some time. This ensures a better website experience for all users. Additionally, your SEO ranking will not be affected due to website downtime.
The Google search engine recognizes this website maintenance and does not change its ranking until the maintenance mode is disabled.
If you have the technical know-how, you can enable the maintenance mode by making the required changes in the .htaccess file. Else, you can opt for a maintenance mode plugin like WP Maintenance Mode.
Bonus Tip: Use an Audit log
Want a bonus tip? An audit or activity log keeps track of all activities that are happening on your WordPress site. Even if something goes wrong during an update, it’s easy to locate the error and troubleshoot the problem.
The WP Security Audit Log plugin maintains an audit log to help track user activity.
While applying a WordPress version update can be risky, it’s one of the best things you can do for your site. It ensures that you have free access to the latest features and bug fixes that can enhance the look, functionality, and more importantly, security of your site.
While a major WordPress update without adequate preparation can be potentially dangerous, it doesn’t have to be that way. Each of the tips listed in this article is a step towards performing a safe and seamless update.
So, next time, don’t be afraid of updating your WordPress site. With the adequate precautions and the right tools at your disposal, you are all set to make the most of WordPress and its best features. All the best!